Northern Ghana?s Peaceful Conurbation

Tue, 6 Jun 2006 Source: Akosah-Sarpong, Kofi

Kofi Akosah-Sarpong, in Tamale, is charmed by the city?s peacefulness and sees Ghana?s top northern city as a contradiction to what most Ghanaians think of it in relation to other troubled cities in the country

Before my one hour-and-40 minutes travel by Air Antrak in the morning of Sunday, May 28 from Kotoka International Airport, Accra to Tamale, Ghana?s top northern city, I have had mixed images of the city, mostly from media reports. But as a development/cultural journalist with long-running experiences in journalism objectivity and ethics, despite their contentious nature, a better part of me balanced me out in my journey to Tamale to train Ghana?s northern region based journalists in human rights reporting, grounded in Ghana?s development process. Before my journey, I have read extensively about Tamale in particular and the northern part of Ghana in general ? their culture, developmental and security challenges, history, struggles, and more.

The beauty of the aerial view of Tamale, a flat terrain marked by Nim and Dawadawa trees, reminded me of the Canadian City of Edmonton, Alberta. Tamale and its area have been projected in the media as violent-prone; poverty-ridden; its elites, as key directors of progress, most of them living in the southern part of Ghana, disconnected from its development process; a city and its area mired in some inhibiting cultural practices such as witchcraft and female genital mutilation that undermine its progress; an area that contributes less to the national treasury despites its immense human and natural wealth; and one of the most leading areas of Ghana that is yet to be developed fully. ?N/Region has had enough of conflicts ? Minister laments,? headlined the Accra-based ?The Chronicle,? in an apparent reference the region?s recurrent ?protracted conflicts and chieftaincy disputes.? Actually, Tamale itself is not violent-prone but cool and as the top city of the northern sector of Ghana that all good from its surroundings flow in, all bad things too have been flowing in, making intra-ethnic violence from Yendi by the Dagbon ethnic group reverberating into Tamale.

After 70 cedis (the taxi drive proved that this is the standard fare), we drove through the clean Bawah Barracks (a military officer on duty stopped us to question the driver why he used that route instead of the normal Airport Road) to the main city, my professional objectivity became sharper. The quietness of Tamale further opened up my observation. The clean, well-laid modern streets, despite some filth here and there, which is far better than other Ghanaian cities, were stridently balanced by many females riding motor-bikes. As a heavy African traveler, I have not seen such a large number of women using motor-bikes in my life, especially in West Africa, where I know very well. And the large bicycle riders, the largest in Ghana, are helped by the well-laid bicycle paths alongside the roads, with their well-covered gutters.

The mistake of the taxi driver, who could not locate earlier the 2002 American-built Radach Memorial Centre (a Christian business venture, as a policy does not sell alcohol, more a reflection of the heavy religious character of Tamale ? most Tamale dwellers are Muslims), I and my Canadian associate, Richard Garner, of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), another journalism trainer with the Toronto-based Journalists for Human Rights (JHR), had a long ride through the city. With virtually no ?Trotro? transport as is the case in southern Ghana cities like Accra, ?Shared Taxi? is the main transportation in Tamale, though mostly inhabited by the Mole-Dagomba linguistic group has a reasonable mix of other Ghanaian languages. A new Tamale Sport Stadium, being built by a Chinese company for CAN (Confederation of African Nations Cup) 2008, and some few other constructions works, were in sharp contrast to other Ghanaian cities? booming construction works but yet Tamale is said to be one of the fastest growing cities in West Africa. With investment and other industrial activities very low, most Tamale dwellers are urban farmers, an idea that is being promoted in Ghana.

The very few storey buildings and the many single houses reminded me of American or Liberian cities. But unlike America or Liberia, Tamale has good blend of traditional and modern architecture and is one of the safest, if not the safest, cities in Ghana. ?Crime rate is very, very low?The people are so religious?And almost everyone is God-fearing,? said the Canadian Kerry Gauer, of the World Universities Canada, who works with children education in Salaga. ?Everybody looks after each other,? said Reagan Nerville, of Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and a JHR volunteer attached to Radio Justice, an FM Station that specializes in democracy, rule of law and human rights. There are four FM stations and two monthly newspapers in Tamale that serves a population of around 350,000 people. Tamale has many international and local non-governmental organizations (NGO) and the billboards spread out throughout the city said it all. I was told about 120 or more NGOs are located in Tamale alone, making it the leading NGOs based city in Ghana, and radiate their services throughout Ghana?s northern sector to help solve the region?s long-running poverty and other developmental problems.

Tamale denizens said we arrived at the right time when the hot, dry, windy hamattan season was departing and the rains have started. I like Tamale?s calmness, its rich nutritious traditional food. I am humbled by its respectful people and their simplicity.

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Columnist: Akosah-Sarpong, Kofi